Ige to challenge Abercrombie for governor in 2014

Published On: Jul 09 2013 07:11:00 AM HST

Sen. David Ige announced Tuesday morning that he will throw his hat into the race for governor and is, so far, the only challenger to incumbent Neil Abercrombie.

"Every campaign starts with family," said the Democratic senator, who represents Pearl City, Waiau, Pearlridge and Aiea. "They are with you from the beginning, pick you up when you stumble, and help you celebrate and cherish the successes. That's why I chose to make this announcement from our home."

Ige has served in the state legislature for 28 years and currently chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. His attempt to make Abercrombie a one-term governor sets up a rare form of political in-fighting not often seen in Hawaii, a decisively blue state.

In 1970, Gov. John A. Burns defeated Lt. Gov. Thomas Gill in the Democratic primary by 13,232 votes. Twelve years later, Gov. George Ariyoshi, also a Democrat, faced another primary challenger in Lt. Gov. Jean King, but easily defeated her by 22,058 votes. Burns and Ariyoshi both went on to win reelection.

Political analyst and University of Hawaii Professor Neal Milner said although both were unsuccessful, Gill and King appealed to left-leaning voters within the Democrat party. He says Ige may have to do the same if he hopes to be successful in unseating Abercrombie.

"It's not clear at this stage if they're dissatisfied enough to pull away from Abercrombie," said Milner. "Remember that the fundamental election is not the general election, it's the primary election. That's where Ige has to address himself right now."

Ige did not address any major policy differences with the governor on the day of his announcement, but said it's fair to describe him as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

"I try and avoid labels, but I think my voting record would agree with that characterization," Ige told KITV4.

The longtime legislator counts  education reform, economic development and technological advancement as some his greatest accomplishments. As a trained electrical engineer who earned his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Ige is also focused on helping small businesses prosper.

"Government was geared to be big government servicing big ag and big business," said Ige. "It is clear that the world has changed and it's really about how to support small business and small agriculture, and more entrepreneurial spirit."

Ige's announcement comes as a surprise to many Democrats, who did not anticipate anyone challenging Abercrombie. However, Milner says Ige may be counting on the governor's unpopularity.

A CivilBeat poll conducted in late June shows 48 percent of registered voters disapprove of Abercrombie's job performance, while just 45 percent approve. The survey of 869 registered voters has a 3.3 percent margin of error.

"I think he's looking at this race and saying that the governor is vulnerable because his approval rating isn't very high, and this is a chance to take advantage of that," said Milner.

Abercrombie's campaign manager Bill Kaneko released the following statement a few hours after Ige's announcement:

"We welcome Sen. David Ige into the race for governor. He has had a long career as a state senator for the Leeward District of O'ahu. Voters will have an opportunity to hear and evaluate both candidates' respective legislative and executive experiences, track records and philosophies. Elections are all about choices. That is the democratic process, and voters will have a chance to engage with the candidates on critical issues that face all of us."

Kaneko also highlighted Abercrombie's accomplishments during 2 1/2 years in office.

"Under Gov. Abercrombie's strong leadership, the state's fiscal situation is stabilized, the economy is growing, and the residents of Hawai'i are enjoying a period of prosperity and optimism. He has brought in and supported a new generation of political leadership in Hawai'i, and we are fully committed to his reelection in 2014," said Kaneko.

So far, Abercrombie has more than $1.3 million in his race for reelection, while Ige has a mere $73,754 in his warchest.

Milner believes the first challenge for Ige is to raise his name recognition, while providing a compelling narrative that catches on with voters.

"He has had a good career as a legislator, but in terms of name recognition, he's about as well known as say the mayor of Ogallala, Nebraska," said Milner. "Nothing else is going to work if he doesn't get the name recognition."


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